Genji Monogatari, by Lady Murasaki Shikibu, tr. Suematsu Kencho, , at sacred-texts.com
Towards the end of February the cherry flowers at the front of the Southern Palace were coming into blossom, and a feast was given to celebrate the occasion. The weather was most lovely, and the merry birds were singing their melody to the charms of the scene. All the Royal Princes, nobles and literati were assembled, and among them the Emperor made his appearance, accompanied by the Princess Wistaria (now Empress) on the one side, and the Niogo of Kokiden, the mother of the Heir-apparent on the other; the latter having constrained herself to take part with her rival in the fête, in spite of her uneasiness at the recent promotion of that rival.
When all the seats were taken the composing 1 of poems, as was the custom, commenced, and they began picking up the rhymes. The turn came in due course to Genji, who picked up the word spring. Next to Genji, Tô-no-Chiûjiô took his.
Many more followed them, including several aged professors, who had often been present on similar occasions, with faces wrinkled by time, and figures bowed by the weight of years. The movements and announcements 2 both of Genji and his brother-in-law were elegant and graceful, as might be expected; but among those who followed there were not a few who showed awkwardness, this being more the case with scholars of ordinary accomplishments, since this was an epoch when the Emperor, the Heir-apparent and others of high distinction were more or less accomplished in these arts.
Meanwhile, they all partook of the feast; the selected musicians
joyfully played their parts, and as the sun was setting, "The Spring-lark Sings" (name of a dance) was danced. This reminded those present of Genji's dance at the maple fête, and the Heir-apparent pressed him to dance, at the same moment putting on his head a wreath of flowers. Upon this Genji stood up, and waving his sleeves, danced a little. Tô-no-Chiûjiô was next requested by the Emperor to do the same thing, and he danced the "Willow Flower Gardens" most elaborately, and was honored by the Emperor with a present of a roll of silk. After them, many young nobles danced indiscriminately, one after another, but we cannot give an opinion about them as the darkness was already gathering round. Lamps were at length brought, when the reading of the poems took place, and late in the evening all present dispersed.
The palace grounds now became quite tranquil, and over them the moon shone with her soft light.
Genji, his temper mellowed by saké, was tempted to take a stroll to see what he could see. He first sauntered round Fuji-Tsubo (the chamber of Wistaria) and came up by the side of the corridor of Kokiden. He noticed a small private door standing open. It seems that the Niogo was in her upper chamber at the Emperor's quarters, having gone there after she retired from the feast. The inner sliding door was also left open, and no human voice was heard from within.
"Such are occasions on which one often compromises one's self," thought he, and yet slowly approached the entrance. Just at that moment he heard a tender voice coming toward him, humming, "Nothing so sweet as the oboro 3 moon-night." Genji waited her approach, and caught her by the sleeve. It made her start. "Who are you?" she exclaimed. "Don't be alarmed," he replied, and gently led her back to the corridor. He then added, "Let us look out on the moonlight together." She was, of course, nervous, and would fain have cried out. "Hush," said he; "know that I am one with whom no one will interfere; be gentle, and let us talk a little while." These words convinced her that it was Prince Genji, and calmed her fears.
It appears that he had taken more saké than usual, and this made him rather reckless. The girl, on the other hand, was
still very young, but she was witty and pleasantly disposed, and spent some time in conversing with him.
He did not yet know who she was, and asked, "Can't you let me know your name? Suppose I wish to write to you hereafter?" But she gave no decided answer; so Genji, after exchanging his fan with hers, left her and quietly returned to his apartments.
Genji's thoughts were now directed to his new acquaintance. He was convinced that she was one of the younger sisters of the Niogo. He knew that one of them was married to a Prince, one of his own relations, and another to his brother-in-law, Tô-no-Chiûjiô. He was perfectly sure that his new acquaintance was not either of these, and he presumed her to be the fifth or sixth of them, but was not sure which of these two.
"How can I ascertain this?" he thought. "If I compromise myself, and her father becomes troublesome, that won't do; but yet I must know."
The fan which he had just acquired was of the color of cherry. On it was a picture representing the pale moon coming out of a purple cloud, throwing a dim light upon the water.
To Genji this was precious. He wrote on one side the following, and kept it carefully, with a longing for the chance of making it useful:—
Now, it so happened that on a certain day at the end of March, an archery meeting was to be held at Udaijin's, in which numerous noble youths were to be present, and which was to be succeeded by the Wistaria flower-feast. The height of the flower season was past, but there were two cherry-trees, besides the Wistaria in the gardens, which blossomed later. A new building in the ground, which had been decorated for the occasion of the Mogi 4 of the two Princesses, was being beautifully arranged for this occasion.
Genji also had been told one day at Court by Udaijin that
he might join the meeting. When the day came Genji did not arrive early. Udaijin sent by one of his sons the following haughty message to Genji, who was at the time with the Emperor:—
Genji at once showed this to the Emperor, asking whether he had better go. "Ah!" said the latter, smiling, "This is from a great personage. You had better go, I should think; besides there are the Princesses there."
Thereupon he prepared to go, and made his appearance late in the afternoon.
The party was very pleasant, although the archery-match was almost finished, and several hours were spent in different amusements. As twilight fell around, Genji affected to be influenced by the saké he had taken, left the party, and went to that part of the Palace where the Princesses lived. The Wistaria flowers in the gardens could also be seen from this spot, and several ladies were looking out on them.
"I have been too much pressed. Let me take a little quiet shelter here," said Genji, as he joined them. The room was nicely scented with burning perfume. There he saw his two half-sisters and some others with whom he was not acquainted. He was certain that the one he wished to ascertain about was among them, but from the darkness of the advancing evening he was unable to distinguish her. He adopted a device for doing so. He hummed, as he looked vacantly around, the "Ishi-kawa," 5 but instead of the original line, "My belt being taken," artfully, and in an arch tone, substituted the word "fan" for "belt."
Some were surprised at this change, while others even said, "What a strange Ishi-kawa!" One only said nothing, but looked down, and thus betrayed herself as the one whom he was seeking, and Genji was soon at her side.
143:1 Composing poems in Chinese was a principal part of the feast. The form of it is this, a Court scholar selects in obedience to Imperial command, the subject, and then writes different words on pieces of paper and places them on a table in the gardens, folded up. Two of these are first picked out for the Emperor, and then each one after another, according to precedence, goes to the table, takes one, and these words form their rhymes.
143:2 It was also the custom, when each had taken his paper, to read it aloud, and also to announce his particular title or station.
144:3 "Oboro" is an adjective meaning calm, and little glaring, and is specially attributed to the moon in spring. The line is from an old ode.
145:4 The ceremony of girls putting on dress marking the commencement of womanhood, corresponding to the Gembuk in the case of boys. These princesses were the daughters of the Niogo of Kokiden. It was the custom that royal children should be brought up at the home of the mother.
146:5 Name of a well-known ballad.